Charles Woodson had many great seasons in his Hall of Fame career, but his best was likely 2009 when the Green Bay Packers cornerback was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. Woodson had many great games that season, his best was likely the Packers 34-12 win over the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving.
In that contest in front of a national TV audience, Woodson had two interceptions, one sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He also broke up four passes and limited Lions Hall of Fame receiver, Calvin Johnson, to two catches for 10 yards in the game.
Oh, and by the way, Woodson’s second interception of the game was a 38-yard pick six that closed out the scoring and put the game completely out of reach for Detroit.
“It was a good day,” Woodson said with a grin when addressing reporters in the locker room.
Woodson wasn’t the only Packers player to have a good day. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw for 348 yards and three touchdowns while receiver Donald Driver finished the game with seven catches for 142 yards and a touchdown to pace the Green Bay offense.
The defense forced five turnovers including four picks with Tramon Williams and Nick Collins joining Woodson in pilfering Matthew Stafford’s passes.
“Our defense was huge. That was the number one factor in our success,” head coach Mike McCarthy said after the game.
The Packers came into the game shorthanded on defense as they were without cornerback Al Harris and edge rusher Aaron Kampman who both suffered season-ending knee injuries in the Pack’s win over the 49ers the previous Sunday.
The game didn’t get off to a great start for Green Bay. Jordy Nelson fumbled the opening kickoff and the Lions recovered at the Green Bay 20. Six plays later, Stafford found Calvin Johnson on a back shoulder pass from one yard out and the Packers trailed 7-0.
In the second quarter, the Packers offense made three trips into the red zone but only came away with one touchdown, a seven-yard pass from Rodgers to tight end Donald Lee. On the other two drives, they settled for field goals by Mason Crosby and led 13-7 at the half.
In the second half, the Packers offense started to click and much of it was due to the strong protection afforded Rodgers by his offensive line.
“There were a couple times when I held the ball for four or five seconds — maybe more,” Rodgers said. “When you have that kind of time with the kind of players that we have, we feel like we’re going to make plays.”
The offense completed two touchdown drives in the third quarter culminating with touchdown passes to Driver and James Jones.
“We kind of cleaned things up in the second half,” running back Ryan Grant explained. “And that was what we said at halftime, we want to score touchdowns. Field goals aren’t going to cut it, and we wanted to put them away.”
The Lions tried to get back into the game and a safety and a field goal by Jason Hanson made it 27-12 which was a two-possession game.
But that’s when Woodson ended the comeback attempt. He stepped in front of another Stafford pass for Johnson and ran it back 38 yards for the score. The Packers led 34-12 and that closed out the scoring with 3:47 left on the clock.
“I’ve seen that route a million times and I know how Calvin comes off on that route, and they threw it,” Woodson explained. “I knew if they ran it, then I was going to pick it.”
After he scored, Woodson struck the Heisman pose, just like he had at the University of Michigan more than a decade earlier.
“Being here in Michigan with all the fans I know I still have here,” Woodson said. “I just wanted to remind those guys what it was like back when I was in school.”
It was a fitting end to a special day for Woodson. He started the day by donating $2 million to the new University of Michigan Mott Children’s Hospital.
“The gift is definitely what Thanksgiving is all about,” Woodson said. “You break that word down, you give thanks for the things you’re blessed with, and you give until you can’t give anymore. We’d been planning it for the past few months, and Fox joined in with us, to get the message across, so it was big for us today to have that stage and get it done so it was shown nationwide.”
The win was the Packers ninth straight against the Lions and McCarthy improved his record against Detroit to 8-0. The Packers were 7-4 on the season and battling for playoff position.
But the main thing on everybody’s mind was the impressive play of Woodson.
“I’m putting my vote in for defensive MVP right now,” Tramon Williams exclaimed. “The guy is great.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever played on a team that had one single player that plays the way he plays,” defensive end Cullen Jenkins added. “Every time anything happens on the field, you look over and he’s trying to get a ball loose, trying to intercept a pass, sacking the quarterback. He’s all over the field. And, golly, to me he’s got to be one of the best defensive players in the league, if not the best.”
“I don’t know who’s playing better football than Charles Woodson in the National Football League,” McCarthy said.
That season, the answer was nobody, at least not on defense. Woodson dominated on his way to the Defensive Player of the Year Award and eventually the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers
Click here for more great Packers coverage